Hurt lockers and supermales


In yesterday's Salon Martha P. Nochimson takes Kathryn Bigelow to task for not being femme enough: "It's that I'm still coming to grips with how a woman could possibly have dreamed up this spartan American soldier in Iraq, who, while obsessively romancing death as a bomb-squad ace, outdoes the most extreme images of machismo ever produced by mainstream America."

Some good responses on the first (earliest) page of letters. Anna68:

Uh, because she is an artist and artists are keen observers of human nature? Just a shot in the dark.

(With feminists like this, who needs mysogyny!)

MHC adds:

...Bigelow is a visual artist, not simply a "female director" (whatever that may mean.)

And her film centers on a character who is addicted to a nearly wordless, intense, visual pursuit -- as is any visual artist worth their salt, no matter their gender. Bigelow chose the palette of war, and did show something about the addiction our culture has to war making, but what I found compelling was watching the main character work, watching him engaged in a life and death situation that depended for a positive outcome on his visual acuity, totally mesmerizing. The life and death part of his job seemed secondary to him; the time-stopping focus he was capable of achieving when looking at a bomb and figuring out how to defuse it was what seemed to bring him intense pleasure and release. Anyone who thinks images can relate to that. And anyone who makes war knows that James' character was doing, on a micro-scale, what war-makers do, too; they focus exclusively on the necessary. And women are obviously as capable of engaging in that kind of focus. Just ask Bigelow.

In the film, the main character keeps a box of defused bomb parts as souvenirs. A fellow soldier says "it's just junk from Radio Shack." Reading MHC's letter made me think about the artist connection: the box suggests an after-the-fact version of the found object/collage materials artists collect, which have no value until they are assembled.

Faint praise and passive aggression

...from Holland Cotter in his New York Times review of the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Some of these remarks are taken out of context (what sounds like a cut might be ameliorated with praise elsewhere) but the overall tone of snippy boredom is fairly accurate. Given Robert Williams' extreme, er, sensitivity to his pop culture roots, being called "the cartoon artist Robert Williams" for his big moment in the sun has gotta hurt.

"[t]he museum...can claim credit for a solid and considered product"

"Two mural-size photographs by James Casebere...have the trippy glow of Claritin ads"

"Small gouaches by the cartoon artist Robert Williams"

"Pictures by Sarah Crowner are basically Op Art folded and stitched"

"Scott Short elaborates on a production process Franz Kline used 60 years ago"

"[a]bstraction’s old content — utopian ideals, personal expression — is squeezed out... What’s left? Décor? Expensive busywork?"

"Lorraine O’Grady...rais[es] issues of race, class and the highly ambivalent nature of beauty that the new abstraction ignores"

"Exactly what the Bruce High Quality artists had in mind I don’t know, but maybe it doesn’t matter. In any case, they’re already on to something else"

"In the end it was video along with photography...that made the show tick for me"

"And there’s one example of Conceptual Art still to come. It’s by Michael Asher, and it consists of keeping the Whitney open around the clock just before the Biennial ends in late May. Mr. Asher was originally told his piece would last a week, but the museum, for budgetary reasons, has cut it back to three days"